There has been much talk about the War on Christmas in recent years, and it's hard to deny that objections to the public celebration of Christmas have been on the rise. Students in public schools have been barred from singing religious Christmas carols and hymns; Nativity scenes that have been placed in town squares for decades have been removed; and even the Christmas tree has come under attack, from renaming it a "holiday" tree to demanding its removal from public places in the name of the separation of Church and state.
But despite it all, Christmas continues to prevail. What has largely been lost, however, is Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas.
Ask most people when the Christmas season begins, and they will likely tell you that it starts on the day after Thanksgiving. If they're aware of Advent, they might say that it begins on the First Sunday of Advent. In other words, what is often called "the Christmas shopping season" has become, in many people's minds, the Christmas season. And then the real Christmas season, which runs from Christmas Eve until Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord), simply becomes preparation for the New Year.
But anticipating Christmas in this way not only deemphasizes Advent; it dilutes Christmas, too. So those who are worried about the War on Christmas should also take up arms (metaphorically, of course) to defend Advent.
The easiest way, of course, is to adopt some of the traditional family activities and devotions for celebrating Advent. But there are more public ways to help revive interest in Advent. Instead of greeting your friends with "Merry Christmas" before Christmas Eve, why not wish them a "Blessed Advent"? Most Catholics (even those who do not celebrate Advent outside of Sunday Mass) will understand, and the greeting could become a teaching opportunity for other Christians who do not celebrate Advent. (You could, for instance, print out copies of my article on The Season of Advent in the Catholic Church and distribute them to people who are unfamiliar with Advent.)
If you're planning a Christmas party, either at home or at work, consider holding it at some point during the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas to Epiphany. That helps others to understand that the Christmas season starts, not ends, with Christmas--and, again, it gives you an opportunity to explain to them that Advent is a period of preparation for Christ's Nativity.
Waiting until Gaudete Sunday--or, better yet, Christmas Eve--to put up your Christmas tree can help others who see the tree in your window to understand that Christmas didn't begin after Thanksgiving. And not taking the Christmas tree down until January 7--likely long after your neighbors have tossed theirs to the curb--helps others to understand that Christmas didn't end on Christmas Day.
Similarly, if you decorate the outside of your house with lights, consider using only white lights until Christmas Eve. (In a comment on a reader question about putting up the Christmas tree, Nancy makes a great suggestion: Use purple lights during Advent, to mirror the purple vestments used during the season, as well as the purple candles in the Advent wreath.)
By restoring Advent to its rightful place, we also raise up Christmas, and we increase our sense of joy and expectation as Christmas Day nears.
Do you have any Advent customs that I haven't mentioned above? Please tell us about them in the comments!